Michael Jarrett: How a gridiron coach taught a future entrepreneur how to run a company

During the past 15 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and know people who have helped me immensely along the way. But my first opportunity for learning how to lead an organization from good to great came when I was a senior captain for Larry Kehres, the recently retired, and legendary, football coach at the University of Mount Union.

I played football at Mount Union under Kehres, known to his former players as LK, in the early years of the school’s dynasty. When LK retired as the head football coach at Mount Union, he left with the winningest record in college football history — 332-24-3 over a 27-year period. Amazingly, that’s an average of less than one loss per year during his entire career.

He won 11 national titles and has the record for most consecutive wins — 55 — in NCAA history. Even more astounding, is that prior to reeling off 55 straight wins from 2000 to 2003, his Purple Raiders won 54 straight games from 1996 to 1999. For those with a calculator handy, that’s a 109-1 record for eight seasons. His record speaks for itself, but there is no doubt in the minds of those who follow Mount Union that he is the greatest coach in college football history.

Lessons learned

I learned a lot from LK, but in regards to entrepreneurship, he taught me the importance of discipline, persistence, focusing on the details and having a passion for greatness. As Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great,” said, “A culture of discipline is not a principle of business, it is a principle of greatness. Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led — yes. But not tightly managed.”

I saw that firsthand with LK’s leadership skills. Having great people, in the right positions, and all headed in the same direction is what gives your organization an opportunity to achieve greatness. I often say that Tom Brady is a great NFL quarterback, but would be a crummy offensive guard.

Accountability is essential

Leaders put their people in the right positions, hold them accountable and keep them headed in the same direction. LK made sure all these criteria were met with his teams. Being good was simply not good enough. You had to have the discipline to be great. As Collins put it so well, “Good is the enemy of great.” He must have interviewed LK for his book.

Collins’ Level 5 leaders differentiate themselves from other leaders in that they have a blend of personal humility and extraordinary professional will. Having great people might make your organization good, but without the right leadership you will not become great.
As Collins said, “The vast majority of organizations never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good — and that is the main problem.” Just like most football teams. Except for those coached by LK.

Michael Jarrett is the founder and president of Jarrett Logistics Systems and PackShip USA in Orrville. Both companies have won numerous growth awards multiple times, including the Weatherhead 100, Cascade Capital Growth Award, INC 500/5000, The Entrepreneurial Edge Award and the NEO Success Award. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.jarrettlogistics.com.

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